You're glad they made movies like "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" alright, simply to prove there was a time people were more innocent. Sitting through it is another matter.
The central problem with "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" as it stands today is that it suffers from a major case of indecision: Does it want to be about a theater critic who gets a big head, or does it want to be about a Manhattan mom with four sons who finds a new home in Westchester County? Doris Day stars doing what she does best, throwing off clever one-liners with a maternal glow, doing a little bit of singing, and standing by her man, in this case David Niven as theater critic Lawrence Mackay, who probably doesn't deserve her but as played by the winning Niven keeps our sympathies enough to make us happy he convinces her otherwise.
Mackay is quite taken by his new role as the Frank Rich of Mayor Wagner-era Broadway, but she's worried his becoming an influential quipmeister has made him mean, a candidate for a ride on the "down-a-lator" as expressed by a producer who used to be Mackay's friend until one of Mackay's catty reviews sundered their relationship. The producer, played by Richard Hadyn in much the same jaded manner he brought to his impresario role in "The Sound Of Music" five years later, accelerates Mackay's notoriety by having the starlet of his latest play, "Mme. Fantan," slap Mackay across the face for the benefit of a newspaper photographer after he disses her performance.
There's a great idea for a story here, about a critic coming up against the egos of himself and others, but unfortunately the result doesn't give Day much to do. Niven is neither unfaithful to her nor really all that nasty a critic. Instead of trying to make the story work better, which admittedly would risk running against the grain of a Doris Day comedy, the film throws in a subplot, about the couple and their four sons moving up the Hudson River to the bucolic suburb of Hooton and the resulting mild turmoil that causes. Thus, the entire second half of the film feels as awkwardly tacked on as the musical numbers Day performs in the final third of the programme.
It's all rather stupid, yes, but winsome, too, in that nice way that makes one nostalgic for the early 1960s. The scenery is attractively shot. The supporting actors are fun. Of the Day numbers, one, "Any Way The Wind Blows," is a terrific number with a busy bassline and some nice dipping harmonies that recalls Elvis Presley's "King Creole," fetchingly performed by Day and members of the cast as the "Hooton Holler Players." Never mind that groaner of a name, it's a good routine. The other number, the title song sung by Day and a merry band of children, should have been cut but for the fact it's a Doris Day movie and a drippy song with a kiddie chorus was what her audience wanted.
The same can be said for the whole movie. "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" is charming in a way films wouldn't dare be today. The dialogue is unnaturally whipsmart Neil-Simonesque, even when it's Day talking to one of her sons ("All he does is eat and sleep." "He's a dog. What d'ya want from him, blank verse?"). The youngest boy is clearly overdubbed by a woman with a cutesy voice, saying "Cokee Cola" as he drops water bags on people in a way that's supposed to suggest Tom Sawyer, not lawsuits. The dog jumps into Niven's arms at the sight of a squirrel, and he raises his magnificent eyebrows as only David Niven can at the idea of finding himself in a lightweight suburban farce.
Day makes you glad you stopped by, a suburbanite dream in her snug Capri slacks who finds the humor in every scene. Limited, yes, but very good in her genre, enough to make a film like this at least intermittently entertaining. She and Niven do play very well off each other. Like Michael E. Barrett wrote here in another review, the scene of them in the restaurant together after Niven has had his face slapped is a terrifically acted sequence, underplayed well by both stars.
Unfortunately, the rest of film doesn't rise to that same level of subtlety. Instead, she does her suburban mom thing while he plays the non-vicious critic with a vicious reputation, until at the end we are asked to pretend the twain come to meet and all is resolved. It doesn't, but the nicest thing to be said for "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" is that it's so genial it makes you willing to pretend otherwise.
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